The weekend before last, as I was decorating the Christmas tree, accompanied by the obligatory cheesy Christmas music compilation, and feeling very Christmassy as perfectly timed, big white fluffy flakes of snow fell outside (a very unusual occurrence here in London), I got to thinking. As I was carefully placing baubles and decorations so as to achieve maximum sparkle from the fairy lights entwined around the tree, I began contemplating, not for the first time, just why it is that we are so drawn to all things twinkly and sparkly.
And it is not just the magic of fairy lights at Christmas that enchant and excite us, we are captivated by all forms of light, natural and artificial, at any time of the year.
As I write, the mood will be set for many a romantic dinner the world over with the addition of a candle or two. A summer’s evening garden party will be festooned with tea lights. The faithful are using it in their worship; currently our Jewish friends are celebrating Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, which centres around the lighting of the menorah on each of the 8 nights of the festival.
We are enchanted by the artificial dazzling, illuminations of a cityscape and the world over we flock to see and interact with artists’ light installations. Here in London for instance crowds flock every year to the Christmas Lights extravaganza at Kew Gardens.
Also at Kew, we have been enjoying for the last 18 months or so ‘The Hive’. The result of the creative genius of Wolfgang Buttress this 17 metre tall, aluminium structure stands in a wildflower meadow and offers visitors a visual and aural experience which in the day time alone is magical and mesmerising, but takes on another dimension ‘after dark’.
The sounds and 1,000 LED lights of this installation incredibly are activated by the activity of real life bees in a nearby hive. The Hive has a serious purpose though, to educate people about the amazing life of bees and their critical role as pollinators in feeding the planet.
We marvel at natural, optical phenomena from rainbows to aurora, and the bioluminescence observed in many insects, marine life and fungi. We are captivated by the sky at night when we look heavenwards. All photographers are of course light chasers and crafters – ah so many things on the photography bucket list!
Light allows us to see and makes things visible, it gives us warmth and energy. As long as there have been humans as sentient beings, we have been fixated with light, the primary source being our own sun.
The Chinese Daoist Alchemists believe in the healing powers of the sun, the golden elixir of life. Their ancient practices include allowing the light of the dawn to flow into you, by looking directly into the rising sun when just over the horizon. This golden light flows into your body through your eyes, which are the doors to your soul / inner being, and as the liver is the organ associated directly with the eyes, whilst good for your whole body, it is a healing practice particularly for your liver.
Whether or not you believe the Daoist Alchemists, we do know that we need sunlight for our bodies to create vitamin D, which is essential for regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies which are the nutrients needed to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A number of health problems flow from deficiency, including an impaired immune system (which the liver plays a vital part in regulating, back to the Daoists). We can get vitamin D from some foods but the primary source is the sun. For us here in Ol’ Blighty in the winter months, any indeed many in the Northern climes, the sunlight is not strong enough to make enough vitamin D and so we are advised to increase our intake of vitamin D rich foods, and in some cases take supplements. So, if you are feeling ‘blue’ in winter, it may well be because of the lack of enough that ‘golden’ light.
No doubt our fixation with all things luminous is connected to its quite literal life-giving properties and that our very existence, and that of all life on earth is dependent on it.
However, my own view as to why we love fairy lights and all things luminous? It surely cannot be a coincidence that all that all artificial glitter, sparkles and twinkles replicates what we see when we look up on a clear and starry, starry night and observe our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. I think that fairy lights speak to our inner connection with the cosmos and our creation since all the essential elements for life on Earth, and contained within us, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur, are found in the stars and formed from cataclysmic events in the universe. As Carl Sagan famously said, ‘we are made of star stuff’. Physicists who have calculated such things say that 93% of our body mass is stardust!
I think when we look up in wonder at the billions of stars in the night sky, and contemplate our place amongst them, we at once feel how both precious and insignificant we are, and that this is something which we all share. I think we know deep down within us that if we can truly understand this and embrace this, it will give us great power for good, and this in turn creates within us a feeling of hope and joy, and this is what makes us feel good when we look at lights, fairy or otherwise.
So, as you enjoy the Christmas lights this festive season ponder this: it doesn’t matter what your race, religion, who you are, where you’re from, we are all humans, all of us 93% stardust, sharing this one tiny (cosmically speaking) planet, on the same journey hurtling through space (the Earth and our solar system whirls around the centre of our galaxy at 220 km/second, or 792,000 km/hour) and in this we are all united. Global problems, require a global response and solutions, and our future depends on embracing that which unites us, rather than that which divides, and from this will flow peace and great things for humankind.
Merry Christmas – Season Greetings